A financial recovery effort is underway at the Nelson Community Food Centre after it was forced to lay off staff and limit the hours of its food bank in June.
Co-chair Kady Hunter said the centre let go of four staff members, including their executive director, as part of cost-saving and restructuring measures in June. Andrew Creighton is now serving as the organization’s interim executive director.
The centre has also limited the hours of the Good Food Bank, which previously ran two days a week but is now only open Wednesdays, 1 to 4 p.m., every other week.
Hunter and Creighton said the centre was forced to make changes following what they characterized as a series of mistakes made in funding applications and outdated accounting practices.
“It was really a confluence of events that came together, and all of them fairly significant and big,” said Creighton.
The 18-year-old food centre, located in the Nelson United Church at 602 Silica St., provides food to more than 250 households weekly. It also runs several programs including cooking classes and the Harvest Rescue, during which volunteers pick produce from backyards and farms that would otherwise go to waste. In May the centre announced it had been selected by United Way to run a regional food hub.
The centre is a charity that relies on grants and donations. Hunter said an application error led to the centre not receiving the provincial Community Gaming Grant this year, which Creighton added is typically between $75,000 and $100,000 and represents approximately a third of the centre’s core funding.
The loss of funding was poorly timed.
In July 2022, the centre began a renovation of its commercial kitchen that required structural work on the church’s building (Creighton said the complete cost of the work is still being calculated).
The centre has also been dealing with higher food prices, increased community need and an end to funding that had been tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. That all led to a conclusion this year that its financial troubles were greater than anyone realized.
“I’m glad that we’re still surviving,” said Creighton. “I think that’s something we’re going to be seeing more and more over the next couple of years, that kind of aftershock of COVID and what people went through.”
Food banks across Canada are dealing with some of the same issues faced by the Nelson Community Food Centre. A report by The Canadian Press in June found inflation is impacting services and driving up demand.
In Nelson, Hunter said work is well underway to fixing the situation.
A consultant has helped the centre re-organize its accounting, and it will re-apply for the Community Gaming Grant with the hope it can still secure funding during the current fiscal year.
“We’ve been working pretty closely with our national partner Community Food Centres Canada who has been providing us with support, and the church has been really rallying for us,” said Hunter. “So it felt good to have that financial support, but also we know we have lots of people in the community who are just waiting for us to sort out our situation.”
In the meantime, the centre has already received a private donation of $50,000 from a volunteer and wants to match it with a new fundraising campaign.
Creighton said the centre is still trying to service families who are impacted by the food bank’s reduced hours, and makes about 30 deliveries to people with mobility issues. The centre also plans to re-hire staff once it regains its financial security.
“The food bank is still a great vibe,” he said. “Lots of familiar faces, new faces, volunteers are coming in. Our whole approach is celebratory and strength based. So we’re keeping that alive and seeing the food bank, it’s not mopey and sad. It’s crazy and fun and healthy and positive. So that’s still going.”